Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Do-It-Yourself Cleaners

Have you ever wondered what your great-grandmother used for cleaning her house before there was an entire row of products in the store? While they do clean, many of these products leave chemical and fragrance residues in your home - neither of which is necessary or desirable. For the price of one commercial cleaning product, you can clean your entire home for a few years!

In recent years, antimicrobial agents have been added to many products, from soaps to paint. Many scientists believe that overuse of these products has the potential to create more resistant bacteria. Additionally, many studies have shown that triclosan, a commonly used antimicrobial, accumulates in our environment, particularly in groundwater. An FDA panel reviewed studies on handwashing in 2005 and concluded that antibacterial soaps are no more effective than regular soaps.

Cleaning your house is as simple as locating a spray bottle and a few basic ingredients that you may already have. Always label your homemade cleaning containers with name and ingredients. Like all cleaners, these should be kept out of the reach of children. Many of these recipes use vinegar, so you should remember that vinegar and bleach should never be mixed.

All-purpose cleaners (I use the first two, choosing one based on what I'm cleaning - what could be easier than vinegar and dish detergent?):

  • Vinegar and water mixed in equal amounts. This can also be used as a glass cleaner.

  • Dish detergent diluted with water.
  • 1 tbsp borax, 1/4 cup vinegar, 1 tsp dish detergent, and fill spray bottle to top with water.

Scouring agents:

  • Baking soda, which can be mixed with some dish detergent for more cleaning power, or
  • Vinegar and salt.

Air fresheners:

  • Open the windows.

  • Remove or clean the odor source.
  • Simmer water with cinnamon or other spices on the stove.
  • Mix a favorite essential oil with water in a small spray bottle.

Furniture cleaner:

Mix 1/4 cup vinegar or lemon juice with 1/2 tsp olive oil. Use a soft cloth such as a flannel rag.

Laundry: Try your laundry without fabric softener or dryer sheets (I never use either). If there are many suds in the rinse water, try reducing the amount of laundry detergent in subsequent loads until the water is clean. If you have soft water, a small amount such as 2 Tbsp detergent might be enough for a large load of laundry.

Dishes: Look for phosphate-free dishwashing soap and dishwasher detergent. Dishwasher detergent can be mixed from washing soda and borax, but washing soda can be difficult to find.

One final tip: consider referencing the Materials Safety Data Sheet for any chemical that you use in your home or yard. Manufacturers are required to provide these; they can usually be found with an internet search such as "MSDS (product name)". The MSDS will list hazardous ingredients and particular concerns, toxicity, and recommended protective gear.

For additional information, including natural oven cleaners, metal polishes, and less toxic ways to limit ants and other pests, try these resources:

Book, probably available at your library:

Better Basics for the Home, Annie Berthold-Bond

Internet links:


Michigan State Extension

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